It kind of feels a bit like Penrith’s chance has gone.
The team has a very different feel this year to last year so it’s hard to predict how they will get on in 2020.
In past years, the Panthers have been predicted to do well and have always fallen short, particularly last year where they finished outside the top eight.
Nathan Cleary is still the beating heart of the side but now, the whole thing pretty much rests on his shoulders with James Maloney no longer by his side. Jarome Luai will be there next to him, but he only really offers a running threat in reality, while Tyrone May may rejoin the side later in the season when his time as a subject of the NRL’s ‘no-fault stand-down’ policy ends.
There are plenty of new young faces in the Panthers’ line up with Brent Naden and Brian To’o progressing into the Panthers’ lineup during last year and impressing.
Penrith’s front row has a very new feel to it. James Tamou will step up to lead the pack while new boys Apisai Koroisau and Zane Tetevano have joined the club from Manly and South Sydney respectively.
Unlike the front row, Viliame Kikau, Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris are familiar faces and complete the likely lineup of their pack.
Another new face, Kurt Capewell could well be sitting on the bench but gives the Panthers versatility value while young forwards Liam Marin, Spencer Leniu and Moses Leota will provide plenty of punch off the bench.
A year of transition for the Panthers?
Coach: Ivan Cleary
Ivan Cleary (above) is now in his second spell as Penrith Panthers coach after joining the club from Wests Tigers for 2019.
Last year didn’t quite go as well as he would have hoped and with Phil Gould now gone from the background team, the Panthers’ squad looks very different.
Cleary’s job will be to help his son Nathan lead the team around the park.
Cleary has also coached New Zealand Warriors and the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII.
Star Player: Nathan Cleary
A lot of pressure is now on Nathan Cleary (pictured, top) to produce at halfback. He’s 22 and has a growing number of NRL and Origin games for New South Wales under his belt so he is expected to lead from the front for the Panthers.
James Maloney’s departure to Super League and the south of France puts added pressure on Cleary’s young shoulders but he is more than capable of delivering.
He will have to be the organiser and do the vast majority of the kicking for Penrith with Jarome Luai, his partner in the halves, providing a running threat which Cleary also possesses.
Rugby League World Predicts: 12th
First published in Rugby League World, Issue 467 (March 2020)